Bolden Says SLS “Will Go Away,” Expects Few Other Changes at NASA if Biden Elected

Charles Bolden

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.

“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”

Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.

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OmegA Rocket Bites the Dust

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some years ago, I ran into a friend of mine from Northrop Grumman at a conference. Come to think of it, he might have been with pre-acquisition Orbital ATK.

Whatever the case, the subject of the company’s OmegA booster came up.

“It’ll never fly,” he said flatly.

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Dispute Erupts Over SpaceX’s Boca Chica Test Facility

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

A dispute has erupted between several environmental groups and the federal government over the impact of SpaceX’s test operations at Boca Chica Beach in south Texas.

The issue: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX’s plan to use the coastal site for launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets up to 12 times per year.

However, Elon Musk’s company has instead been using its facilities to develop and flight test its larger Starship and Super Heavy boosters. The resulting impacts have been much greater than anticipated under the original proposal, environmental groups argue.

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NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission Nears Completion

Green Propellant Infusion Mission in orbit. (Credit: NASA)

by Lance Davis
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA just validated a new type of propellant, or fuel, for spacecraft of all sizes. Instead of toxic hydrazine, space missions can use a less toxic, “green” propellant and the compatible technologies designed to go along with it. In a little over a year since launch, NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) successfully proved a never-before-used propellant and propulsion system work as intended, demonstrating both are practical options for future missions.

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LightSail 2 Enters Extended Mission Phase

LightSail with its solar sail deployed. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

PASADENA, Calif. (The Planetary Society PR) — One year after launching into space, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has completed its primary mission phase and is embarking on an extended mission dedicated to further advancing solar sailing technology. 

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WFIRST Continues to Make Progress Despite Cancellation Attempts

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) continues to making steady progress toward an October 2026 launch despite the Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to cancel it, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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SpaceX Won Lunar Gateway Logistics Contract on Price, Quality; Boeing Eliminated From Bidding

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX won a multi-billion NASA contract to transport supplies to the lunar Gateway by providing a superior cargo ship with more capacity at a lower price than three major aerospace giants, according to a source selection document released by the space agency.

NASA eliminated Boeing from the competition because its proposal had the lowest mission suitability score while asking for the highest price. The evaluation board found eight weaknesses, four strengths and not a single significant strength in the company’s technical approach.

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SpaceX Starship SN3 Collapses During Cryo Test

Video Caption: Starship SN3 collapsed during a cryogenic proof test designed to validate the vehicle ahead of a planned static fire and 150-meter hop. SpaceX will now have to instead focus on future Starship builds.

Footage via Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF and edited by Jack Beyer (thejackbeyer)

Video Caption: Another very disappointing end to the week with SpaceX SN3 Starship Destroyed. Looks like the Liquid Oxygen Tank Crumpled. This is quite disappointing as we had huge hopes for the SN 3 because it looked just so much more robust. The welds were looking really beautiful.

The SN 4 is already being built so we can look forward to that which is going come up rapidly much quicker than most people would realize.

A huge thank you to Boca Chica girl with NASAspaceflight and also LabPadre links to both of those incredibly awesome channels below.

Editor’s Note: It’s disconcerting that work on this project is continuing during the coronavirus pandemic. I reviewed the video above that shows the stacking of the the Starship prototype that collapsed on the test stand this morning.

Credits: BocaChicaGal, NASASpaceflight.com & Marcus House

The above screenshot taken at 4:54 into the video shows employees working closely together without observing the six feet social distancing guidelines or wearing protective masks to guard against infecting each other with the deadlly COVID-19 virus.

Any one of these workers could have the virus for a week without showing any symptoms. During that time, an infected worker could unknowingly pass COVID-19 onto his co-workers. The result of that could be severe illness or death. Even young, seemingly healthy individuals have died when their respiratory systems collapsed.

SpaceX is legally exempt from closing its doors because it is classified as an essential business. That is due to the fact that Elon Musk’s company is a government contractor that performs vital, time critical work for NASA and the Department of Defense.

Starship, however, does not appear to be either vital or time critical. It’s a long-term development project that SpaceX is funding on its own. Neither NASA nor DOD is going to use Starship at any time in the near future. Their launch needs are satisfied by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as well as the nation’s fleet of expendable boosters.

SpaceX’s goal of preserving humanity by making it a multi-planetary species is noble enough. It doesn’t need to place the humans making that possible at unnecessary risk in the midst of a deadly global pandemic.

Janus Satellite to Explore Binary Asteroid

NASA rendering of a Janus satellite rendezvousing with a binary asteroid. (Credit: NASA)

Janus: Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon Heavy (secondary payload on Psyche mission)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Date: July 2022
NASA Program: Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx)

Description

Janus: Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids will study the formation and evolutionary implications for small “rubble pile” asteroids and build an accurate model of two binary asteroid bodies. A binary asteroid is a system of two asteroids orbiting their common center of mass.

The principal investigator is Daniel Scheeres at the University of Colorado. Lockheed Martin will provide project management.

SIMPLEx

Using small spacecraft – less than 400 pounds, or 180 kilograms, in mass – SIMPLEx selections will conduct stand-alone planetary science missions. Each will share their ride to space with either another NASA mission or a commercial launch opportunity.

Janus will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Solar System Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Small Satellites to Study Martian Atmosphere

The twin EscaPADE satellites will fly to Mars and circle the planet in complementary orbits to sample the hot ionized plasma (cross section in yellow and green) and magnetic fields (blue lines) to understand how Mars’ atmosphere escapes into space. (Credit: UC Berkeley/Robert Lillis)

Escape and Plasma Acceleration
and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE)

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon Heavy (secondary payload on Psyche mission)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Launch Date: July 2022
NASA Program: Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx)

Description

This mission’s objective is to characterize (on multiple scales) the acceleration processes driving escape from Mars’ atmosphere, as well as how the atmosphere responds to the constant outflow of the solar wind flowing off the Sun.

The principal investigator for this mission is Robert Lillis at the University of California, Berkeley. UC Berkeley will also provide project management.

SIMPLEx

Using small spacecraft – less than 400 pounds, or 180 kilograms, in mass – SIMPLEx selections will conduct stand-alone planetary science missions. Each will share their ride to space with either another NASA mission or a commercial launch opportunity.

EscaPADE will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the Solar System Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA Selects SpaceX Falcon Heavy to Launch Psyche Mission

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metal asteroid will carry a revolutionary Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. This artist’s concept shows Psyche spacecraft with a five-panel array. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Psyche mission. The Psyche mission currently is targeted to launch in July 2022 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The total cost for NASA to launch Psyche and the secondary payloads is approximately $117 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

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SpaceX Could Launch 70 Times From Florida in 2023

Mobile service tower surrounding Falcon Heavy booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX would be launching up to 70 times annually from Florida by 2023, including polar orbit launches that are not currently conducted from the Sunshine State.

Elon Musk’s rocket company is also planning to construct a mobile service tower (MST) to support commercial and national security launches from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

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SpaceX Designing Service Tower for Pad 39A

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad. (Credit: SpaceX)

Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX is completing plans for a mobile service tower so the company can integrate U.S. military satellites onto its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while they are in a vertical position on Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The tower will surround Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets at pad 39A, shielding the vehicles from storms and high winds and providing a controlled environment for ground crews to hoist heavy satellites and mount them on top of the launch vehicles in a vertical configuration.

SpaceX currently installs satellites, already cocooned inside their payload shrouds, onto Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets horizontally inside hangars near the company’s launch pads. But some of thee U.S. government’s most sensitive intelligence-gathering satellites, some of which come with billion-dollar or higher price tags, are designed to be mounted on their launch vehicles vertically.

SpaceX officials said the vertical integration capability is required for participants in the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement. The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center — now part of the U.S. Space Force — released a request for proposals for the Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement last May.

The military plans to select two companies later this year to launch the Pentagon’s most critical satellite missions from 2022 through 2026. The military’s incumbent National Security Space Launch providers — United Launch Alliance and SpaceX — are competing for the lucrative contracts with newcomers Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin for the Phase 2 contracts.

Report: NASA Needs to Improve Management of Major Projects

An artist’s concept of the 2012 Mars Curiosity Landing. Mars 2020 will use a nearly identical landing system, but with added precision from the Lander Vision System. (Credits: NASA Image /JPL-Caltech)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s culture of excessive optimism and its tendency to underestimate technical challenges combine with funding instability to cause cost overruns and schedule delays, according to a new report from the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The document identified NASA’s management of major projects as one of the space agency’s top seven performance challenges. [Full Report]

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GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

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